After the smoke clears and the situation involving the proposed Chuckanut Ridge development finally comes to some sort of a resolution, one thing will be clear: People just shouldn’t build or live next to a huge piece of privately owned property and expect that property to never be developed. That’s not real-world thinking.
That said, we can empathize to a large degree with the feelings of many of Fairhaven’s anti-development residents.
That parcel of land had become like a park to them; laced with trails and huge stands of magnificent trees, the “Hundred Acre Wood,” named after the mystical woodland of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, is an anchor of South Bellingham’s greenspaces.
But unfortunately, it’s not owned by the city. Or the state, or even the federal government.
It’s owned by a person who has every right to develop it in a way deemed suitable by city code and regulation. He didn’t pay for that property so residents could tell him what he can or can’t do with it, it’s as simple as that.
There has been more than enough time for residents to act on this matter before it got to this stage. Because previous owners of the site balked at development in the face of local ire, perhaps it was assumed this would always be the case. Yell loudly enough, scare off the present owner who then sells to someone else. Rinse. Repeat. It worked before, why wouldn’t it just keep on working?
Because eventually, an owner will come along who will press his claim on the development rights, will know what the city code allows, and will not be cowed by protestors or signs in front yards. We’re not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a legal thing.
While previous owners hedged and waffled and eventually looked to unload the property, the anti-development groups should have formed a group to buy it themselves, if it was that important to them. But they didn’t. Moreover, the Fairhaven area is already the happy recipient of a preponderance of the city’s greenspace; this will not change if Chuckanut Ridge is built out.
As Bellingham grows, infill is needed to prevent sprawl – the kind that swallows up pristine farmlands and woodlands outside the city limits — and this site has been earmarked for that. While many Bellingham residents are sympathetic to the southsider’s fight, there is also a feeling that the Fairhavenites would be perfectly happy to see infill occur in other parts of the city — just not theirs.
The chance for compromise does exist. The present plan for the development of the site is a shadow of the mega-complex originally planned for the area years ago, but further revision is also certainly possible. The opportunity exists for the owner, given the present furor over the development, to produce a pioneering eco-friendly development that would probably result in lower profits – but from a development standpoint, lower profits are a better then none.
In the end, the question to ask is this: How much rights do residents have to be able to dictate the development options of a neighboring landowner? City code and zoning exists for a reason – and if a landowner wants to build within that code and zoning, legally they should be able to do that.
This is not what the Hundred Acre Wood folks want to hear. But it’s fair, which, in a ugly situation like this, is about all you can ask for.